St Mirren 0 - 1 Rangers: Moment of brilliance from Barisic separates sides

On a day when Steven Gerrard, conscious of the challenges ahead, chose to rely on auxiliaries it was always possible that an unlikely hero might emerge.
Borna Barisic celebrates after giving Rangers the lead.Borna Barisic celebrates after giving Rangers the lead.
Borna Barisic celebrates after giving Rangers the lead.

Borna Barisic, one of five changes after last Thursday's strength- sapping 0-0 draw at Legia Warsaw, needed to make a point after losing his place to Jon Flanagan and did so in thrilling fashion just before the hour mark.

It’s not necessarily an area where a left-back needs to excel but by whipping a 25-yard free-kick into the top corner he secured a vital three points for Rangers, who maintained their 100 per cent record on their return to league action. A draw, even at this early stage of the season, would have proved deflating and wiped out the worth of Connor Goldson's last-minute winner on their last away league appointment at Kilmarnock.

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Barisic later mis-kicked wildly when presented with a chance to put this victory beyond doubt. But by proving so deadly from distance he made up for his own profligacy and that of others from closer in.

It was clearly a cathartic moment for the player, who was booked for the intense celebrations that followed his first ‘real’ goal for the club – a free-kick strike from a similar distance against St Joseph’s of Gibraltar that seemed to cross the line was later credited to Goldson, who knocked in the rebound after the ‘keeper had clawed the ball back. There was nothing ambiguous about Barisic's strike yesterday.

Rangers spurned several opportunities but then so did St Mirren, who found fortune deserted them at key moments. Jon Obika hit the junction of the crossbar and post with a cross that almost drifted in over Allan McGregor’s head while substitute Junior Morias might have earned a draw for his new side on his debut right at the death. He had more time than he realised after fellow substitute Kyle McAllister's cross and fluffed the chance from the edge of the six-yard box.

No-one will convince the home fans they should not have had a penalty towards the end of the first half when Filip Helander upended Obika in clumsy fashion on the edge of the box. Manager Jim Goodwin and Obika himself were less strident in their view but thought referee Kevin Clancy would have been within his rights to give it.

Perhaps Goodoiwn was conscious that St Mirren profited from a penalty decision going their way in a 1-0 win over Aberdeen on their last outing here. The conditions yesterday posed different challenges to a fortnight ago. It wasn’t rain that the players were wiping from their eyes but sweat.

The sun blazed overhead. Every stoppage for an injury was an opportunity for the players to rush to the sidelines for water.

Rangers fans were in the spotlight. Occupying both ends of the ground, these supporters faced being judged as much as the Ibrox players at the start of a significant seven-day period both on and off the pitch. A Uefa sanction imposed for “racist behaviour” means part of Ibrox will be closed when Legia Warsaw visit later this week. After that comes Celtic at Ibrox, when scrutiny of fans’ behaviour will be fierce once more.

The Union Bears supporters' group chose a very self-regarding approach. Much as they’d hate to hear the comparison, it is similar to the stance adopted by Celtic's Green Brigade over the years: Why us?

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One banner unfolded shortly before kick-off read: “Everyone Anyone Except BF1”, which references the section where this group are found. Another, revealed during the first-half, reckoned “Their only crime was loyalty”.

The fans did heed the repeated calls from the club, made most recently on Friday, to desist from singing offensive songs.

Perhaps the heat helped melt away the prejudices. It also lent an air of pre-season friendly to the proceedings. The lack of urgency was particularly apparent in Rangers’ play in the opening half. It was as if they only remembered points were at stake in the second as they duly pushed St Mirren back. McAllister was reduced to kicking for touch at one point.

Rangers could have made things a lot easier for themselves had Jermain Defoe taken a chance that fell his way after three minutes following Scott Arfield's through ball. The striker slipped his shot wide of the post.

Rangers rued this miss because they struggled to get a sight of goal afterwards and were reduced to taking speculative shots. But St Mirren did rely on goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky to save a header from point blank range from Arfield at the near post after James Tavernier’s cross at the end of the first-half.

The visitors redoubled their efforts after the interval and got their reward after 59 minutes. Barisic was grateful to Defoe for handing him the chance after the experienced striker drew a foul from Calum Waters, who was booked. The tall Croatian eyed the top right-hand corner and found it with a bending, inch-perfect hit.